Spain’s Rafael Nadal reacts after a point against Canada’s Milos Raonic during their men’s singles quarter-final match on day ten of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 25, 2017. SAEED KHAN / AFP
Rafael Nadal battled his way to victory over Milos Raonic in straight sets 6/4; 7/6 (7); 6/4 in the night match at Melbourne Park’s Rod Laver Arena. The Australian Open’s quarterfinal match result could have been different, but for the experienced Nadal’s compliance with basic axioms of the game. A pugilist (on a tennis court), Nadal hung in when on the defensive, just getting the ball back at a slower pace; but goes for the jugular when balanced. In the contest with Raonic, the Spaniard rarely missed when he had a chance to win the point. On the contrary, the powerful Raonic went for the kill even when all he needed to do was keep the ball in play.
Raonic won the toss and opted, predictably, to serve first. He came into the match with a whopping tally of 93 aces in five preceding matches. However, the opening game was not routine as he dropped the first point, recovered with a service winner and had three game points, but was forced to deuce on a double fault. He got the first advantage but lost it.
Then he delivered his first ace of the match but lost the edge and required two consecutive service winners to clinch the game. On the contrary, Nadal won his first service game at love; and such was the pattern for the whole match. He opened the third game with an ace serve (203km/h) and held at love with a service winner.
Nadal dropped the first point of the fourth game but recovered to level the tally. Raonic struggled to win the fifth game, while Nadal leveled without dropping a point on his serve. In the seventh game, Nadal returned a 227km/h thunderbolt for a winner to go up 15-30 and won the game when Raonic missed an overhead smash. Nadal hung on to that break to win the set 6-4, winning the set point with a spectacular overhead smash.
Raonic won the first game of the second set quickly at love, generating hopes of a counter-push. He deuced Nadal in the second game and had a break point. A delay by Nadal in delivering serve elicited a time code violation from the Chair Umpire, but Nadal achieved the deuce.
The first advantage point was lost on a net cord in favour of the Canadian. Nadal had two advantages but double faulted on the second. He finally clinched the game on the fourth opportunity. It was a critical stage in the set. The next three games went with serve. After Raonic won the fifth game on his serve, he left the court for treatment. Nadal remained on court stretching and swinging his racket but then requested a bathroom break and returned to court ahead of Raonic.
Nadal dropped the first point of the sixth game but faced a roller coaster tally and registered an ace to win the game, credit to his scrambling. Raonic delivered his ninth ace of the match to lead four games to three, but Nadal leveled. And also survived three break points and needed a second opportunity to win the 10th game. Both players held serve for six games apiece and got to the tiebreak. Raonic had the first opportunity to win the set when he got a break of Nadal’s serve to lead 6-5, but he double faulted. He got another set point at 7-6 but Nadal annulled it.
Nadal went ahead eight points to seven. Serving for the set, he delivered a service wide to Raonic’s left and the Canadian’s return ricocheted off the net and landed out. Nadal had the second set 7/6.
Nadal opened serving in the third set and missed his first attempt but Raonic returned the second serve into the net. A volley winner gave Nadal three game points, which he took off a service return wide by Raonic.
Each player held on to his service. In the sixth game, Raonic delivered his 13th ace of the match (at 215 km/h) to lead 30-15 but a service return by Nadal winner leveled points. At 30-all the lady chair umpire called Nadal’s return out and his challenge was unsuccessful.
The game went to deuce and Raonic delivered a 204 to win the game. Nadal won the seventh game. In the eighth game with Raonic serving, he led all the way although there was a slight drama when Nadal called attention to a small pool of water that was toweled dry before Raonic took the game with a 215km/h serve. Nadal won his service game at love to lead 5 – 4.
Serving to stay in the match, Raonic lost the first two points to 0-30. In the third point, a prolonged rally ended with a drop shot and Nadal had three match points. After an exchange of shots, Raonic hit a short volley, which landed near the net on Nadal’s side, but the Spaniard scrambled to scoop the ball up into the waiting hands of Raonic, who missed the volley. Nadal went on his knees in celebration of his victory.
After the match, Nadal was asked if he had had doubts about returning to this stage of a Grand Slam, the philosopher athlete answered: “I am not an arrogant person, so I have doubts. When you have doubts, it makes you want to work more.”
He will now face Grigor Dimitrov in one of the semifinal matches tomorrow. Of the encounter, Nadal said: “It will be a tough match; I will fight for every ball.”
Yes, that is Rafael Nadal.